As the president’s official speechwriter I’d like to point out that the president is not offended by the label of “Cockwomble”. This is what he had to say earlier today when Fox News reported that he had indeed been labelled a Cockwomble.
“The definition, given above, of this outstanding word is false news. Very big false news. Very hugely big false news in fact. The term, if you look it up in the official White House dictionary of modern American words, that incidentally I’ve just finished writing….a great great book of wise words…… frankly is actually a compliment. A big and very great, and I must say very apt complement. I’ll break it down for the stoopid journalists among you. “Cock” – well we all know that the cock is in charge of the henhouse. So this just means that I’m the numero uno Rooster in charge of this great great nation…this beautiful and very wonderful land of the free. Numero UNO! As for the second part “Womble” – some people, not all, just the smart ones like me….when I say smart like me of course I actually mean that you wish you were all as smart as me…you wouldn’t believe my IQ if I told you….off the chart…way off…super smart…very super duper smart. But anyway the Wombles were very cute and wonderful creatures on British TV who cleared up other peoples mess ups. Much like I’ve done since taking over the bad…the very bad…the incredible, very bad mess left by Obama. I’ve cleaned up Obama’s mess. Cleaned it right up. I’ve been given China’s mess to clear up, this Chinese virus, started in Wuhan….in CHINA, so it’s a Chinese virus okay. Very deadly, but I’ve defeated it more or less single handed. The WHO and the UN are incompetent and very stupid people. Can’t be trusted. So I’m removing funding. I’ve turned things around again and made America great again…AGAIN. How great? Very very wonderfully super duperly great. Greater than ever actually. It’s an outstanding achievement. Everyone says so. Everyone. All the big, big players say so. America is great, just like Great Uncle Bulgaria of the Wombles was a great great man, that’s why he was Great Uncle….very wise, so very very wise – like me, people cometo him with problems and he uses his amazing outstanding wonderful great wisdom to sort things out, so the analogy is quite correct, except of course that I have better hair. God bless America.”
So there you have it Donald Trump, President of the USA and proud to be a Cockwomble.
God help…..I mean God Bless….America.
Again thank you for reading and I’d just like to point out that Great Uncle Bulgaria rejects being compared to Mr Trump……and also rejects Mr Trumps definition of the word Cockwomble.
This was one of the books that I recently bought at the annual Hastings Lions Book Sale and the first one that I’ve decided to read. It’s a biographical memoir and follows on where his first book Tales of the Country, which I still have to read, left off. As mentioned in my post about the book sale, I’d already started the book more or less as soon as I got home and it only took three sessions of reading to get through it. His writing flows very easily and you find you’re unable to stop yourself speeding through the stories. Although each chapter is a stand alone story of his family and their life in the British countryside, they are in chronological order so it still, in a way, reads like it’s one story.
It’s not a new book, the ones at the book sale seldom are, and was published in 2007. But from my own experience, although cities change rather quickly, life in the countryside is much slower paced so the stories in this book will ring as true today as when first published.
Although he’s not quite in Bill Bryson’s league as far as one liners go, Viner can still throw in one or two lines to make the reader chuckle along the way, for example – “Applying a razor blade to one’s scrotum is not a job anyone should do in a hurry.” – this from a story relating to his preparation for a vasectomy operation. It’s certainly an attention grabber. Actually, on reflection, he and Bryson do have a lot in common as far as their writing styles are concerned. Both write in the same way that a favourite long-lived uncle would bumble his way through stories of his dim and distant past. Getting lost on the way and taking several side paths before getting back on track to finish the story….and on occasion just getting totally lost.
He’s moved his wife and three children from the city to an old manor house in the Hereford countryside to “live the country life”, but he’s totally inept at country living. His idea of success is being able to walk across a cow paddock without standing in a cow pat, however he does learn how to turn a sheep up the right way…..please don’t ask – read the book.
His predominantly self-depreciating stories cover everything from – being a Beater during Grouse shooting season… the first day known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’, and to grouse as ‘Bollocks, Is It Already That Time of Year Again?’ – coming home to find that the builders who have come to repair his house have spent a whole day putting up scaffolding against the wrong wall – the disaster faced when finding his two dogs had been out savaging sheep – discussing the delights and the downfalls of country dining – the right and wrong way, from experience, to raise chickens – his experiences of being a very minor celebrity – his discovery that one of his neighbours is, or I should say was, a notorious Madame (Madame Whiplash no less) and more.
It’s a very entertaining read and I will certainly make an effort to track down both his earlier book Tales of The Country, and a later one called Cream Teas, Traffic Jams and Sunburn, about the British on holiday. If they are anything like The Pheasants’ Revolt they will be witty and entertaining reads.
The answer is at the foot of the page…..but meantime the quotes.
Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.
To my mind, the only possible pet is a cow. Cows love you. They will listen to your problems and never ask a thing in return. They will be your friends forever. And when you get tired of them, you can kill and eat them. Perfect.
What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children’s parties.
Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough.
Australians are very unfair in this way. They spend half of any conversation insisting that the country’s dangers are vastly overrated and that there’s nothing to worry about, and the other half telling you how six months ago their Uncle Bob was driving to Mudgee when a tiger snake slid out from under the dashboard and bit him on the groin, but that it’s okay now because he’s off the life support machine and they’ve discovered he can communicate with eye blinks.
The taipan is the one to watch out for. It is the most poisonous snake on Earth, with a lunge so swift and a venom so potent that your last mortal utterance is likely to be: “I say, is that a sn—“
But don’t worry,” she continued. “Most snakes don’t want to hurt you. If you’re out in the bush and a snake comes along, just stop dead and let it slide over your shoes.” This, I decided, was the least-likely-to-be-followed advice I have ever been given.
Here’s a bit of a clue….or a couple of clues….All the above quotes are by the same person and he is very well travelled.
Another clue? He’s just brought out a new book called “The Body – A guide for Occupants”.
He’s my favourite travel writer and has me in fits of laughter when he sticks to the topic that made him a household name – TRAVEL…..although some of his later books such as “At Home”, and “A short History of Nearly Everything” were a task to read. They were informative, witty in places….but not in enough places. Given the choice of one or the other, I prefer to have him entertain me rather than educate me. His travel books thankfully entertain and educate…a win/win.
Yes all quotes above were by Bill Bryson.
If you’ve not read any of his travel books, please give them a try, he is a funny guy when he wants to be.
If it’s been as manic at your home as it has been at ours over the last few days….getting ready for Christmas – mowing lawns and weeding gardens (one of the negatives of having Christmas in summer here in New Zealand) and tidying and decorating the house….and getting rid of a years accumulated rubbish….cleaning off the outdoor furniture for Christmas lunch in the garden – you’ll need to smile, chuckle even…..perhaps even a hearty Ho Ho Ho! Here are a few humerous quotes gleaned from the NET.
Santa Claus had the right idea. Visit people only once a year
Christmas is always a problem to the man who has to convince his kids that there is a Santa Claus, and his wife that there isn’t.
I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, toys not included.
You can just hear Santa saying Ho, Ho, Ho, when you receive your credit card statement in January.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.
This Christmas I’ve decided to put mistletoe in my back pocket so all the people I don’t like can kiss my ass!
I try not to eat too much at Christmas lunch….I need to leave room for alcohol to tolerate the in-laws.
It isn’t Christmas until you push your body to the brink of diabetes and alcoholism.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, but if the white runs out I’m happy with a red or a rosé.
When someone asks – where is your Christmas spirit – is it wrong to point to the liquor cabinet?
When you stop believing in Santa……you get socks!
It’s all fun and games until Santa checks the naughty list!
1 day of coal….364 days of fun…..I’ll take my chances.
here’s one for the feminists – A virgin birth I can believe….but 3 wise men? Come on! Now, if it had been 3 wise women…..they would have asked for directions, got there on time, helped to deliver the baby, brought proper – practical gifts, cleaned the stable, made a casserole and there would be peace on earth.
Christmas – the only time of year that its OK to sit and look at a dead tree and eat candy out of a sock.
Dear Santa – please don’t mix it up like you did last year – I said I wanted a slim body and a big fat bank account!
Parental warning – Dear Santa – I’ve been good all year……well most of the year……well once in a while – it’s difficult to stay positive….never mind…..I’ll buy my own stuff….you judgemental bastard!
And a few pictoral jokes……
Hope I haven’t offended too many people. Merry Christmas and a Hap….Hap….Happy New Year!
I have always considered myself a dog person, having owned a pet dog of one sort or another since I was a little boy and actually looked upon “cat people” with scorn almost to the point of ridicule. Why would anyone want a cat rather than a dog for goodness sake?
That was then…..this is now. I’ve jumped ships. I’m now very much in the cat camp.
Looking back all my dogs – Lassie (how original right?) the mixed breed black dog with tan markings was my first and was a lovely natured, loyal, obedient, lively dog and a great companion for two young boys (me and my brother) growing up. Her life was taken too soon on a busy road by a car in a hurry – or a driver of a car in a hurry.
Next came Bess – a Welsh Springer-Spaniel – liver and white in colour. Another wonderful dog, and quite intelligent for a spaniel… (she learned to “heel” very quickly and so could be walked almost anywhere off the leash and would stay by my side). I used to walk her for miles through the woodland near our home in Yorkshire – treasured memories. She had a great temperament, so gentle – (we had a budgerigar in a cage in the house – One day it got out and the dog caught it. She just held it ever so softly in her mouth and presented it to me completely unharmed – except for a coating of doggy saliva that is).
Then, after moving to New Zealand and having two small sons of our own…..we thought a dog would be a good companion for them too. So we bought a black and white Springer/Cocker Spaniel cross from our neighbour. He (our first and only male dog) was playful and very friendly – a little over exuberant maybe – even to the point of annoyance – but also…..I don’t really want to use this word, but honestly I have trained other dogs with ease – this one just wouldn’t learn…..he was STUPID. (This is where Forest Gump pops up in my head and says “stupid is as stupid does….that’s what my momma used to say”). I’ve heard some experts say that there are no stupid dogs, only stupid owners……that may be true in 99% of cases ,where the dogs may have had a learning capacity greater than that of a Turnip, but our dog was definitely a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Which is why we named him Baldrick – after the character from the Black Adder TV series.
Finally we come to our last dog, Millie a Jack-Russel Terrier with the typical brown on white markings. She was the runt of the litter, only half the size of her siblings and so my wife took pity on her and, despite my insistence that we were n’t having any more pets, she was soon sleeping in a shoe box, (that’s how tiny she was – I could hold her in the palm of my hand) by the side of our bed. Another lovely, well trained dog with a friendly manner – except she didn’t like very small children – as a result of being poked around by a couple of little ones when she was a pup (no, not our kids). The problem with runts of the litter is that they are not generally expected, in nature, to live to adulthood. Millie did however, but not without a whole raft of medical problems that cost us into the thousands of dollars to combat. She was 12 years old when she died – 74 in dog years according to the latest way of calculating dogs years Vs humans. (15 dog years for the first human year, 9 dog years for the 2nd year and 5 dog years for every human year afterwards – it used to be 7 dog years for 1 human year….things change – must be inflation).
After her death – which was extremely upsetting for us all, we both agreed – No More Pets!
We went away on holiday (that’s the same as a vacation – for our cousins from the former colonies) – leaving our home in the capable hands of my wife’s brother and his son who would house sit for us and keep things ticking over while we were away. On our return I found, much to my dismay that our home was now “open house” for 2 very young kittens who had come through the fence from next door and had had the run of the house almost from day one of our holiday.
“Right” I said “Not having this….we are a cat free house!” – What a grumpy bugger!
I then set about putting barriers across the back doorway too high for the kittens to clamber over. This of course worked for a couple of weeks until they learned how to jump…..something that animals of the feline persuasion do extremely well. In the end I softened my attitude and allowed them back in…for a while….and would then pop them back through the fence to go home. The two kittens, one male and one female -(we didn’t know what names the neighbours had given them so…) – my wife named them Scarlette and Tiberius. Well, Scarlette, as a name, I could handle…..but Tiberius? To me, he became Tibbs or Tibby and as an ardent Dog man, I hate to admit how fond I became of him. He quickly became MY cat….my wife would claim OUR cat….but he was definitely mine – Shhhh don’t tell her.
From being a 3 month old he pretty much took up permanent residence at our place, (we’d been buying food for them both for some time already), though his sister would go back and forth from us to the neighbours. Tibbs would come when called in at night and slept inside – where ever he wanted to. In the mornings he’d come into the bedroom and jump on to the bed and nuzzle me, purring like a motor boat – as if to say ‘Good morning…great to see you!’, before settling down to sleep on my chest. He had a routine. After breakfast he’d go off exploring for a couple of hours before coming home again to check on me, to have a cuddle and some more food before finding a nice sunny spot to settle in the garden…..sometimes joined by Scarlette. They were really good mates together.
As I said Tibbs never went far and always came home every few hours, so one day when he’d been missing all day, and didn’t come when I called him in, in the evening – naturally we were worried. Fortunately the next day he turned up, bloodied but otherwise ok. He’d obviously been in a fight, bits of missing fur and tooth marks in his skin attesting to that. After that night, he stayed close to home for a few weeks.
Then after he’d been living with us for about 9 months….it was the 4th January 2017 and we had a houseful of family staying over Christmas and New Year….he went out into the garden about 10pm and that was the last we saw of him. My wife was very upset and I, someone who over the years had often said “I can’t stand cats!” – was devastated. It was crazy. I’d had pets die before…dogs…budgies…goldfish, even chickens, and had been upset, but this was gut wrenching. I was beside myself. I think it was the not knowing what had happened to him that was the worst. Was he alive being looked after by another family, or trapped in a shed somewhere, was he dead….if so had he suffered?
A few weeks prior to his disappearance, Scarlette had given birth to her first litter of kittens. 3 little bundles of fluff. We’d not seen them, but we’d been told by the neighbours about them. The day after Tibbs disappeared, Scarlette came visiting and brought with her the cutest, prettiest looking kitten ever. Now bear in mind that this is someone who “doesn’t like cats” who’s writing this….so the kitten MUST have been extremely cute.
My wife…as she does….named him – yes the new kitten is a him – Hector. And, like his uncle Tibby, Hector – once he’d weaned off his mother, kind of settled in with us. He’d go for a wander next door to check on his bro’s, but would usually be back in a few minutes. Other days he’d stay at the neighbours overnight, but mostly spent his time at our house. The youngest boy who lived next door used to come around and collect Hector…who they called Hemi….and take him home to their place. Half an hour later Hector was back with us. Time passed Hector grew and Scarlette had another litter of kittens and so Hector went down the order of cuteness as far as the kids next door were concerned. The new kittens took priority and Hector was no longer wanted.
Long story….already pretty long…but, long story short we had a chat with the neighbours and officially adopted Hector/Hemi to be OUR cat. We took him to the vets, got him “fixed”…..sorry Hector – I feel your anguish and your…loss. AND now I’m going to have to sit with my legs crossed for the next hour wincing in sympathy, just at the thought of it. We bought him a nice collar with name tag and phone number on ….. that’s our phone number not his…..I mean, we spoil the cat with treats but didn’t go as far as giving him his own phone. He settled back in with us despite having him go under the vets knife and except for his tendency to test our love for him……I’ll explain shortly…..everything was going very nicely.
We live on a very busy main road – to the front of the house – with orchards and fields to the back of the house. Scarlette seems to have done a good mothering job in teaching her offspring about keeping off that main road and heading the other direction into the orchard instead. At night I close our big double gates to make the gardens secure for the night…..this, if I am not careful, is where Hector tests our love for him. If he sees me walking down the driveway toward the gate he’ll lay in wait until I have closed one side of the gate and will then run hell for leather out of the open side and lay on the footpath inches away from the busy road and traffic. He’ll lay there and and turn to look at my frantic face as if to say “Well….aren’t you going to rescue me?”. A couple of times I have walked slowly over, bent down and picked him up….bringing him back on to our property and safety….and telling him not to scare me like that ever again.
Obviously almost giving me a heart attack wasn’t enough for dear old Hector so the next time he was laying beside the busy road and I ever so slowly moved toward him….he thought “lets see how much the old bugger can take” and jumped up and wandered slowly across the road…..somehow dodging the cars hurtling past. He got to the centre of the road all calm and collected and then completely lost control and bolted for the shrubbery on the far side. I was so caught up in watching what HE was doing that I found myself….almost trance-like standing in the middle of the road among the traffic. Regaining my senses, I too bolted for the far side, but restrained myself from diving into the bushes after him. Not only were there bushes and shrubs on this side of the street, there was also a wire fence separating me from him. I got down on all 4’s and peered through the hedge. Hector was there, but wouldn’t come when called and wasn’t quite within reach. I had to go for the secret weapon….the wife!
The idea being that if she couldn’t nag him out no one could……just kidding dear.
Once I’d explained what had happened my wife spiritedly volunteered to go through the wire and shrubbery after Hector. I sort of half supported and half pushed her through the hedge until she was all the way in there except for her feet….which I was gripping onto for dear life. “I can almost touch him…..just a little further” she uttered, and in a flash she had gone….I was left on one side of the hedge my wife’s empty slippers in hand and she was on the other side…..somewhere, barefoot…hopefully with the cat now safely in hand.
Moments later, a rather grubby and scratched face appeared and then some hands and arms came through the branches and leaves – holding a very scared Hector. I took him from her and holding him tightly to my chest – I could feel his heart beating like a machine gun – I got him safely home and gave him some food. Only then did I think of my dear wife…battered and bleeding from scratches….and by now barefoot….on the wrong side of the hedge on the wrong side of the road.
She appeared in the kitchen just at that moment grunted “thanks a lot” at me and then made a fuss of the cat. So all’s well that ends well…..and I’ll make up the bed in the spare room shall I dear?
For the next few months all continued to go well….we got into a routine, as we had with Tibbs. Hector sleeps indoors….meows in the morning to be let out, so we unlock the cat flap (we have to lock it at night to keep the rest of the neighbourhood cats out), and off he goes to return a couple of hours later for another feed or a cuddle or a nap. Like his uncle before him, he doesn’t usually wander too far from home and always returns every couple of hours to check in with us. AND like his uncle he jumps on the bed and nuzzles me in the morning….not every morning, just when HE feels like it. He’s his own man. There is no doubt that it’s he that is in charge and this is definitely Hectors house.
Regardless of what time Hector gets me up to let him out, I always make a fuss of him, stroke him and tell him how special he is….after losing Tibbs suddenly like that I just wanted him to know that he’s loved. (I know I don’t sound like a former hater of cats). Then one morning off he went, 4.30am – through the cat flap into the first dim glow of what was promising to be morning. All through the morning – no Hector….nor the afternoon…nor the evening. I took to the streets checking for any signs…alive or dead…and calling his name. I even checked the shrubbery over the road. Nothing. Evening gave way to the full dark of night. At midnight I climbed into bed – worried sick and fearing for the worst. My wife reminded me that “You’re the guy who doesn’t like cats, remember?”….but by now Hector wasn’t just a cat he was family. We both lay there in the dark, silent…wondering.
Then around 1.30am…a distant Meow….then closer, another….louder. The rattle of the cat flap and a loud MEOW! We leaped out of bed and rushed to the back door and there he was, a little scruffy and musty smelling and minus his collar, but otherwise alive and well. I have never felt so relieved!
He’s back to his old routine. Doesn’t wander far, eats here, sleeps here, gets cuddles here…..plays here, or next door, with his mother and younger brothers and sisters. Yes they have quite a collection of cats next door now after 3 litters of kittens. Some of the kittens have been found new homes but it still leaves around 6 or 7 of our feline friends on the other side of the fence. Of course most of them find their way, at some point during the day, over to our place to play with Hector, to eat his food, drink his milk and of course to dig and shit all over my vegetable gardens. Oh the joy of cats!
I had planted enough garlic in my garden to provide us with a couple of garlic bulbs per week for the whole year…on maturity. Why do cats like to crap in garlic beds? They have dug and shit…shit and dug so much that I’ll be lucky to have a dozen bulbs left come harvest time.
In order to foil their evil plans to do the same to my strawberry beds I have built supports around the garden edges and netted the entire strawberry beds in bird netting – in a bid to not only keep the cats from digging the plants up, but also to protect the ripening fruits from the thieving birds.
The cats and kittens really love the nets. It seems that they make great hammocks….wonderful places to just hang out (literally) and enjoy the spring sunshine.
SO….The difference between dogs and cats. Over all and despite the angst caused by the permanent disappearance of Tibby and the temporary disappearance of Hector, cats in my humble opinion, are far less trouble than dogs to look after. All they ask for is food, water and a cuddle – when it suits them. They clean themselves, take themselves for walks, cover up their own “business” and let themselves in and out via the cat flap. If they are hungry and there is no food out, they will prepare their own meal of rodent or bird (Rat or Tui anyone?- don’t worry, it’s New Zealand joke).
Following a dog around with a plastic bag in hand, waiting for it to “go to the toilet” – lets face it, leaves a lot to be desired.
They, cats, like human companionship….but only when it suits them and they are not desperately fawning when their laughingly called “owner” (ho-hum) appears in the same room – unlike their canine counterpart, who even if their owner has only been out of sight for five minutes, behave completely deranged when they reappear. Wagging their tails almost off in sheer delight. Man is, without doubt, in charge when it comes to dogs…..but cats definitely rule over men. (When I use the word “man” or “men” I don’t specifically mean a male of the human species – I use it in the way that we, “the older generation”, used to use the term “mankind”….before we got our wrists slapped and were told it now has to be “humankind”…or even “personkind”)
A dog maybe mans best friend and man is, without a doubt, the object of a dogs undying affection….even it seems when the dog has been mistreated. A cat on the other hand may be a loved companion of man (or woman), but man to a cat is just…meh…you can cuddle me when I say you can cuddle me and not a moment sooner…..now where’s my dinner and don’t just give me bloody biscuits!
Oh and by the way….the reason that cats make better bookmarks than dogs is that usually, but not always….they are smaller, so fit inside a book easier….and have the ability to lay still for ages. It makes them “purrrfect” bookmarks.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I am a big fan of travel books. Travel guides, travelogues and books relating to TV travel shows.
This is my Top 10 list of travelogues currently on my bookshelves. All have been read and some are starting to get pretty old, but remain favourites.
My absolute favourite of all time…..and I’m going to cheat a little on this one. Is Bill Bryson’s “The Complete Notes” – It’s actually two books in one, comprising Notes from a Small Island (about travel in the UK) and Notes from a Big Country (about re-visiting the land of his birth – the USA, after 17 years of living in the UK). I simply love Bryson’s style of writing. He’ll give a half a dozen rather dry facts about a place and then pitch in a one-liner that reduces me to fits of giggles. He’s the sort of person who can get lost anywhere and wears the mantle of the “confused traveler” extremely well. His travel books are always informative….and humorous ( amusing, funny, entertaining, comic, comical, chucklesome, witty, jocular, light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek, wry, waggish, whimsical, playful – and other such synonyms). If you’ve never read Bryson – give him a go – you don’t know what you’re missing. BUT – word to the wise – stick with his travelogues, some of his other books, I feel, can be a little lacking.
I’m a huge fan of Michael Palin (former member of the Monty Python team) for his many TV travel series and accompanying travel books. Starting with “Around the World in 80 Days” – where he set off on a quest to replicate Phileas Fogg’s journey to travel right around the globe in only 80 days….not using planes. After that he went “Pole to Pole” and “Full Circle”, before starting to specialize more in specific areas such as “Himalaya” and “Sahara”. The books of the series have all been worthy of space on my “Travel Bookcase”. Again, like Bryson, Palin delivers facts accompanied by wit. He writes well and is a really nice guy….coming from Sheffield (my place of birth) gains him extra points. The books are also well illustrated with beautiful photos – mostly taken by photographer Basil Pao. Actually Basil’s own book “Inside Sahara” is also well worth a look and has extra photos from Palin’s Sahara trip which were deemed worthy of their own book.
Next is a book given to me in 1986 when I backpacked coast to coast across the USA…and back again. Tina Winn who gave us a roof over our heads at Newport Beach, California, was the lady in question and she gave a book to me and a different one to my travel companion Chris. Mine was “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon, about a journey by van along the blue highways (back roads) that link up all the little towns and settlements across the USA. It was his curiousity to see “the Real America” that took him on the trip of a lifetime….where he meets and mostly brings out the best in people along the way. I don’t have the original copy given to me by Tina (I had to buy a new one) because I swapped it with Chris so I could read his book…..which comes in as my fourth pick.
John Steinbeck – “Travels with Charley” – subtitled “In Search of America”. At the age of sixty, John Steinbeck and his French Poodle “Charley” climbed in to a camper van and took off on a coast to coast and back again adventure. I have read some of Steinbecks novels, but this true story of his travels – giving not only details of the trip and what they saw and did, but also wry observations about what it is to be an American – I think is his best work. And having gone coast to coast and back myself I could relate to much of what’s in the book.
A purchase from a second hand book shop….Pete McCarthy’s hilarious “The Road To McCarthy” – should probably be higher on my list if I’m honest about it. This man is a very funny guy – or i should say WAS, as he died in 2004 after a struggle against cancer. The book takes Pete and us around the world in search of McCarthy – or to be more exact in search of quirky places around the world with odd links to Ireland, the Irish and the McCarthy name. It’s a follow up book to his highly successful “McCarthy’s Bar” – in which Pete McCarthy makes a simple rule – never pass a bar with your name on it. He was an incredibly talented writer and humorist and having only recently discovered his books I was devastated to learn that he’d died. Such a waste of talent – a sad loss……but great books.
Kevin McCloud’s “Grand Tour of Europe” – another book of a TV series (this one on the UK’s Channel 4). The Grand Tour was a rite of passage for the Nobles, minor nobility and upper class wealthy young men which began in the 17th and 18th century. These hedonists cut a swathe across europe, visiting all the fashionable great cities, ruins and architectural marvels…..and partaking in the delights offered by bath houses, bars and brothels along the way. It was an oportunity for these wealthy young men to educate themselves in the world of european art and literature…..and if they didn’t take precautions – to also contract syphilis. McCloud takes us along for the ride and shares snippets of knowledge with us – the audience and readership….some of it carnal – as we visit the culture and history of Europe.
Paul Theroux – “The GreatRailway Bazaar” is my next choice. Unfortunately I only have the Penguin paperback edition, I believe that there is also a large format hard cover book complete with accompanying photos…..quite magnificent photos I hasten to add…by Magnum photographer Steve McCurry. Having said that, Theroux’s text is extremely entertaining, amusing (in places) and informative. He takes us on a four month journey, on a series of trains from London, across Europe, the middle east and Asia, eloquently describing the people and places along the journey. It’s a well crafted book which as well as being a travelogue also discusses subjects such as poverty, ignorance, colonialism and (being an American writer) American Imperialism. It certainly inspires this reader to hop on board and “slow travel” across the continents.
Rolf Potts book “Vagabonding” is a book that I wished I had discovered years ago rather than more recently. It’s a “how to” guide to the art of long-term world travel. Most people, for some reason, see the idea of long-term travel to exotic out of the way lands as being either the thing of dreams, or as requiring oodles of money squirreled away in the bank. Potts shows us that neither of these are true. With common sense advice he walks us through the steps we need to take to make living the dream a reality. And it’s not rocket science!
Hap Cameron’s – “Hap Working the World” – is a book that show’s us just how far a simple thought can take us. In 2003 New Zealander Hap Cameron had an idea that he’d like to live and work on every continent before he turned thirty. Eight years later with all seven continents ticked off, he’s experienced more than most of us will in a lifetime -including being locked in a jail cell in the USA and almost killed by gangsters in Africa. Of course it’s a “coming of age book” – a book that not only takes us on Hap’s journey of discovery of the seven continents, but also his journey of self discovery and of meeting the girl of his dreams. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and by the end I really did care what happened to Hap. It’s fun and it’s an adventure.
For my final choice – it’s more of a choice of writer rather than of a specific book. I’ve read a few of Christina Dodwell‘s books….starting with “An Explorer’s Handbook”. She is one impressive woman. I first came to know of her on a TV series called River Journeys where she tackled the white water of Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River….and allowed tribesmen to cut the diamond shaped pattern of the skin of the crocodile into her arm – to bring her good luck and protection. She puts the intrepid into Intrepid Explorer. She spent 3 years, traveling twenty thousand miles in Africa – by any means including horse, elephant and camel plus 7 weeks in a dug out canoe on the Congo river. Any of her books are a thrill to read. Maybe her first book “Travels with Fortune” about that African adventure would be the one to start with.
That complete’s my Top Ten. It was a difficult choice and I’ve tried to pick a cross section of the books that I hold dear. There were a few others that could easily have replaced others listed above…..like I said, it was a hard choice.
Just as a P.S. and because I feel bad about missing him off my list…..If you’re a Francophile, I recommend any of John Baxter’s books about Paris. Look him up on line.
I promise that this will be my final post about Shaun Bythell and Wigtown, Scotland……at least for a while. This post will hopefully round off and give some sense of finality in the saga of Bythell, Wigtown and Booktowns.
The above picture shows two books…..separate books….. relating two sides of the same story…..but in uniquely different ways.
Shaun Bythell’s – “The Diary of a Bookseller” – is the story of life in the biggest second hand book store in Scotland. It’s told in diary form….one little section per day and always starts off with how many on-line orders were taken and how many of the books could actually be found on the shelves of the shop. He then takes us through an often whimsical look at the daily interaction between himself, his staff and customers. It’s the awkward or slightly weird customers – and what they say – who provide the humour and interest.
His main staff member ‘Nicky’ is, shall we say….a bit of a free spirit, who certainly has a mind of her own, often disregards Shaun’s instructions and basically does what she feels like doing as far as “shop tasks” are concerned. Her dress sense, time keeping, unique turn of phrase and her penchant for dumpster diving add hugely to the humour found in this book. The blurb on the front of the book states “Warm, witty and laugh-out-loud funny” – Daily Mail…and I couldn’t agree more with that. I managed to annoy my wife frequently – I’m pleased to say – by giggling my way from chapter to chapter.
Speaking of chapters….each month is one long chapter and starts off with a quotation from George Orwell’s “Bookshop Memories”…..written in 1936 about Orwell’s experiences of working in a bookshop. The similarities between Orwell’s experiences and Bythell’s are many and are mostly about how life in a bookshop would be far less complicated if it wasn’t for awkward, annoying customers who often interrupt the bliss of being able to kick back and read a good book.
The book is written like a diary – hence the title – and has taken a bit of stick from some people who say it’s repetitive. Well, days working in a bookshop are to some extent repetitive when you’re dealing with the day to day running of a bookshop – but the customers are so predictably unpredictable that each day, more or less, also brings a moment of hilarity. Each day also ends with a tally of the days takings and the number of customers who bought books. But…..I loved it’s irreverant humour and Bythell’s sense of fun and irony.
He also brings into the story a young lady called ‘Anna’, an American writer and film maker who works for NASA, but who in a moment of personal crisis decided to take a break from life in the fast lane and take a month or two to mellow, in a bookshop (chosen at random partly by luck and partly by Mr Google) in Wigtown, Scotland. Long storey short…..Anna and Shaun fall in love and have an on again, off again, on again relationship. Where that relationship finally goes to – you’ll just have to read the books to find out.
Being British, Shaun Bythell keeps the personal side of the relationship to himself and only tells us as much as is needed in order to explain his daily life both in and out of the bookshop. Anna is not her real name. Whether he changed it to protect her anonymity or to protect himself from potential law suits – you know how Americans just LOVE to scream for their lawyers – is neither here nor there….. and since Anna decided to write her own book about the relationship “Three things you need to know about Rockets” under her real name – Jessica…..it becomes a moot point.
Contrary to the British stiff upper lip – keep your emotional life subdued – way of looking at relationships, the American way…..or at least Jessica’s way… is the polar oposite. Emotions come to the fore and in Jessica’s book we are taken along with her on her emotional roller coaster ride through her relationship with “Euan” (aka Shaun).
The Times says “It’s sweet, it’s charming and it’s funny” and indeed it is all these things in parts. The story of her going for a “special waxing” is particularly hilarious and I had tears of laughter streaming down my face. BUT I would also add the word “frustrating” to the description of the book.
There were times where Jessica’s emotional confusion made me want to give her a hug and there were others where her lack of self confidence and her over thinking of things made me shake my head in frustration. In a relationship where two people know one another, love one another and are comfortable in each others company there can be “a comfortable silence” – a silence of contentment. Jessica is not one who finds comfort in silence and interprets Euan’s/Shaun’s moments of silence as being a sign that “something is wrong…..he’s bored with the relationship and with her…..he’s thinking about some other woman”. She is constantly needing to be reassured and seems hell bent on picking holes in a relationship that is – depending on her viewpoint at that moment in time rock steady yet, at the same time, crumbling on it’s foundations.
Whilst I would love to quote a few passages from each book to give you a feel for the different writing styles and mannerisms of these two writers I don’t want to run foul of the copyright laws – as did Blythell when quoting Orwell in his book. But that’s another story.
Both books are certainly worth a read and Shaun’s in particular – since he signed it for me – will hold pride of place on my bookshelves. Bythell’s book is classed as Memoir/Humour and Fox’s as a Romantic Memoir……you make your choice and take your pick. You really do need to read both books though to get the full picture.
Both books describe life in the small settlement of Wigtown in such a way that makes me want to visit there, someday soon. I feel it’s something that just needs to be done. Call it a pilgrimage of sorts if you will – to the book, the bookshop and the booktown.
AND the good news is that a production company has bought the rights to both books with a view to making a combined movie. Whether they actually take up the option and make the movie remains to be seen. I hope they do.
Further good news is that Bythell’s publishers are now asking him for a follow up book. It used to be that when a customer approached the counter, Shaun would think “Oh no what is this idiot going to ask me?” Now he thinks “Yes…great….a customer – hope he/she says something ridiculous” – eager for new material. Watch this space…..
A final plea. If you’re interested enough in the two stories to want to read these books – and I do hope that you do – please buy the physical books, not e-books/Kindle… and please buy them from a bricks and mortar bookshop….not Amazon….on the internet. It’s the patronage of bricks and mortar establishments like “The Bookshop” by readers like you and me that brought about the writing of both these books in the first place. Without us the bookshop and indeed Booktowns would cease to exist.
BUY THE BOOKS……and preserve a way of life…..please.